An Academic Study of Powerlifter Ray Williams’ Superhuman Body

If you know powerlifting, you know Ray Williams. He’s literally the strongest powerlifter on the planet, at least in the drug-tested International Powerlifting Federation, currently holding the IPF world records for the heaviest raw squat ever made (477.5 kilograms), heaviest raw deadlift ever made (392.5 kilograms), and highest raw total ever made (1105 kilograms). All of those records were made at last year’s Arnold Classic, but he was breaking his own records. At this year’s Arnold he made a 485kg squat.

He’s practically unequalled among humans, a genetic abnormality, something approaching superhuman. We’re not saying he doesn’t work harder than anyone, but there must be something unique about his body, right? He should be studied by scientists so we can know more about how he’s able to keep pushing the boundaries of human performance.

That’s what actually happened in the Kevser Ermin Applied Physiology Laboratory at the University of Mississippi. A group of scientists, led by Takashi Abe, invited Ray Williams for an MRI to get a better understanding of the physiology of the world’s strongest raw powerlifter. Then they realized they couldn’t fit the 400-pound Williams into their MRI machine, so they did an ultrasound instead.

Published in the Asian Journal of Sports Medicine with the title “Skeletal Muscle Mass and Architecture of the World’s Strongest Raw Powerlifter: A Case Study,” we learned a couple of interesting things about Ray Ray.

His estimated body fat is 24.3 percent

He walked into the place weighing 404 pounds at 6 feet tall, which means he’s carrying a little under 100 pounds of fat on this body — leaving over three hundred pounds of fat free mass. (138.6 kilograms, or 305.6 pounds to be precise.) The study notes that prior to this, the most fat free mass they’d ever seen on a person (in the published literature they’d studied) was a sumo wrestler with 109 kilograms.

Ray Williams is a very muscular dude. In fact…

He “may be very close to a physiologic limit with respect to muscle size and geometry.”

That was the stated conclusion of the study, which included results like, “muscle thickness and pennation angle of the vastus lateralis (one of the quadriceps muscles) were close to the highest values previously reported in the literature.”

We’re curious as to who had those higher values that were previously reported — probably an athlete focused entirely on hypertrophy.

[Watch Ray Williams take 1,003 pounds for an insane double here.]

The full study is available at this link, and while the whole thing mostly just notes how his muscles are very big and very strong, it’s still pretty cool to read scientists trying to grapple with the walking superman that is Ray Williams.

Featured image via @sbdapparel on Instagram.


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Nick is a content producer and journalist with over seven years’ experience reporting on four continents. His first articles about health were on a cholera outbreak in rural Kenya while he was reporting for a French humanitarian organization. His next writing job was covering the nightlife scene in Shanghai. He’s written on a lot of different kinds of things, but his passion for health ultimately led him to cover it full time.Shanghai was where he managed to publish his first health related article (it was on managing diarrhea), he then went on to produce a radio documentary about bodybuilding in Australia before he finished his Master’s degrees in Journalism and International Relations and headed to New York City. Here, he’s been writing on health full time for more than five years for outlets like Men's Health, VICE, and Popular Science.Nick’s interest in health kind of comes from an existential angle: how are we meant to live? How do we reach our potential? Does the body influence the mind? (Believe it or not, his politics Master’s focused on religion.)Questions like these took him through a lot of different areas of health and fitness like gymnastics, vegetarianism, kettlebell training, fasting, CrossFit, Paleo, and so on, until he realized (or decided) that strength training fit best with the ideas of continuous, measurable self improvement.At BarBend his writing focuses a little more on nutrition and long-form content with a heaping dose of strength training. His underlying belief is in the middle path: you don’t have to count every calorie and complete every workout in order to benefit from a healthy lifestyle and a stronger body. Plus, big traps are cool.